Hey! Summer isn’t over yet!

Well folks, the end of tomato season is upon us. Or at least it is in my yard. But before it is gone completely, I wanted to post a super quick and easy recipe that many people have asked me for in the past. It’s one of my favorite potluck contributions- versatile, colorful, flavorful and fresh.
My dad used to make huge batches of pico de gallo every summer. I am talking enormous. He would fill one of those giant, shiny restaurant size bowls with the stuff. As a kid, I was super picky, and although I liked the flavor of his salsa, I didn’t like the chunks. So I would just dip the tip of my tortilla chip into the tomatoey juice that had pooled in the bottom of the bowl and nibble while he rolled his eyes at me.
But thankfully my appreciation of multi-textured foods has matured, and now I love a good chunky salsa. I’m not actually sure if this recipe qualifies as a salsa or a salad, but either way, it’s good.

Here’s what you need.

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If you can’t tell from the picture, it’s
tomatoes,
onion,
green pepper,
mango,
black beans,
frozen corn,
lime,
chipotle peppers,
garlic,
and a big bunch of cilantro.

Normally, I would add a red pepper and an avocado, but the red pepper had gone bad and my avocado was still rock hard. But no worries. Like I said, this is versatile!

Now here comes the hardest part. Lots of chopping! If you don’t know how to dice a mango, I suggest finding a good youtube tutorial.

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In a big bowl, put your rinsed black beans and about half a bag of frozen corn. You could, of course, slice some fresh corn off the cob, but I’m going for easy here.

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Then toss everything else in.

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I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to heat, but I love the smoky flavor of chipotle peppers in adobe sauce. And it goes great with the sweet mango. So I just throw in one and let it sit for a while until the flavor has permeated the rest. Then I remove it. It’s a bit of an eye-watering shock to get a big bite of chipotle.
You also need a good dose of lime juice. Please don’t tell my father I used ‘fake’ lime juice today. He might have a stroke. I kid you not, Walmart was out of limes.

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I usually use about two fresh limes, but just squirt and taste as you go until it tastes right. Same goes for the salt and pepper.

And that’s it. Nice and chunky, sweet and smoky.

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This is, of course, great with tortilla chips. But as often as not, I often grill up some chicken or beef, slice it, throw it onto a tortilla, and pile a whole bunch of this salsa on top. With sour cream of course. It’s pretty fabulous.

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Restocking the shelves

Last year, I set myself a goal- make enough dolls and toys to buy us plane tickets to Washington for my sister’s wedding. Thanks to all your interest and help, I achieved that goal.
Well guess what.
I have another sister getting married in Washington – and less than three months away! I thought about setting the same goal for myself this time around, but what with a new baby, and shortness of time, and the fact that I already found a super deal on tickets and bought them, that ship has sailed.
Even with the super deal, buying six plane tickets is nothing to sneeze at, so I’d like to start pushing my shop again. I figure, if I can sell about thirty 12 inch dolls or twenty of the 18 inch, it would just about cover it the tickets. So who wants a doll? Or a horse or rabbit? I’m still selling those as well.
I’m making some adjustments to my etsy site, so take a little time to think about it, but fyi, here are a few of the new dolls that will be up for sale soon.

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I have been focusing more on the eighteen inch doll these last few weeks. Here’s my brunette. I have switched them over to the new way of doing hair that I mentioned before, and she is sporting some new “pleather” shoes that I have been experimenting with.

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Here’s my blondie. She is also trying out some new items, like a striped sailor dress, and a felt hat. I hope to get better at making hats. Haberdashery is fun! Or maybe it’s just being able to use that word.

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And here is the red head that I asked for help with yesterday. I went ahead with a few freckles, just to see if I liked them. They are just tiny stitches, and can be removed. What do you all think?
I’m also uncertain about the black dress. Does she need something a little flashier to go with her bright hair, or is the subtle look better? I appreciate your feedback!

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So there we go. Hopefully I will have enough energy and motivation to really get back into the swing of things. And if you know of anyone who might be in the market for a doll, would you be so good as to mention it? These girls deserve a good home. Thanks!

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A whale of a tale

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I like living down south. I really do. But in August, when the days are hot and humid, and I am too wimpy to leave my air-conditioned house, I start to get homesick. I miss the northwest. I miss the cooler, clearer summer weather. I miss being able to sit out on the lawn of an evening without being eaten alive by mosquitos. But most of all I miss the water. There are days when I am sitting in my tiny house in a landlocked city, and I feel I would do just about anything to see the blue gray expanse of the Puget Sound, and to feel the salty wind in my face.
Or I want to be on a boat – a speed boat, a sail boat, even a row boat would suffice. Once upon a time, boats were a part of my life. I learned to row a boat with my best friend on her grandparent’s tiny lake. My Sunday school teacher had a wonderful sailboat that we used to take excursions in, exploring the islands of the Puget Sound and keeping an eye out for whales. I have always been fascinated by whales
And oh the many adventures we had on my uncle’s speed boat, chasing down the huge, lumbering cargo ships so we could ride their wake, or stirring up glittering waves of phosphorescence during midnight boat rides.
My uncle also had kayaks. It took me a while to summon up the nerve to climb into one of those wobbly little boats that sat so low in the water. But I soon learned to love cutting swiftly through the water, following the long rocky shorelines bordered with madrona trees and piled with white driftwood. And again, keeping an eye out for whales.
One day we got a call from my uncle, informing us that wild orca pods were passing through the bay in front of his house, following the salmon run. So we headed up to his house for the day, to see what we could see. I was so excited. Despite my vigilance, I had never yet managed to see a whale in the wild. Maybe today was the day! When we got there, he had a telescope set up on the front deck, and a few pairs of binoculars.
Sure enough, once I managed to get the binoculars focused, I could see, far out in the bay, the tell tale spurts of mist and the black of their triangular dorsal fins. But they were so disappointingly small and distant. And the pod was surrounded by a small fleet of water craft and a larger boat sent from the Coast Guard to keep an eye on the situation. I wanted to be closer too, because I had brought our new video camera in hopes that I might get some good footage. But clearly that wasn’t going to happen from the safe distance of my uncle’s lawn. I could see his kayaks pulled up on the shore below and so I talked a few of my sisters into a little adventure.

There were two kayaks- a one-man and a two-man. I elected to take the two-man with one sister, so I could sit in the front and film, while she paddled. My other sister jumped into the one-man and sped off toward the distant pod.
We took off after her, but were soon struggling to keep up. I had failed to ask some important questions, like whether or not said little sister could paddle at all. She wasn’t exactly a pro if the field, and soon we were spinning in circles. I tried to rectify the situation by counting out the strokes, but I was much bigger than she, and our unequal strokes kept us more or less in the same place.
Ever so often, as we spun, I could see my other sister in the distance, drawing closer to the coveted destination. So I turned around in my seat, handed my sister the camera, and told her to film, while I paddled on alone. We began to make some headway, but once again, I hadn’t asked the important questions, like whether or not my sister knew how to work the video camera.

We do have some footage from this whale watching adventure on an old vhs tape somewhere in my parent’s attic. It’s terribly funny. You can hear me yelling directions at my sister, trying to tell her which buttons to push and where to point the camera. She is wailing about not being able to see anything. In the distance can be heard the booming voice of the Coast Guard from his boat, telling my other sister not to get so close to the whales. The only thing you can actually see are alternating flashes of choppy sea and cloudy sky, with an occasional view of my stressed out face. It’s a film guaranteed to make even the most hardened old sailor sea sick.

Within a few minutes, the pod had moved on, and I could see my sister in the one-man returning from her frolic with the orcas. We turned off the camera, steered the kayak around and headed back to shore. All the way home, I was kicking myself for having been so worried about getting a video. If I had put the camera down, I might have gotten a chance to see the whales up close, Coast Guard or not. I was fairly certain that that had been a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Despite that conviction, I was always eager for another chance to get back on a boat. After all, there was joy in simply looking at the sun on the water, or admiring the snowy mountains in the distance. So months later, when my sunday school teacher organized another outing on his sailboat, I was elated.
The day he chose was a glorious, windy summer’s day, perfect for sailing. About half way to the island where we were going to have a picnic, my fellow classmates decided to go below deck and pass the time by playing a game of cards. I felt like playing cards while on a boat rather defeated the purpose, so I elected to stay up top. I went and sat alone on the side of the boat, dangling my feet over the edge until they just skimmed the surface of the waves. I was (to use a rather worn out phrase) lost in the beauty of the day.

Then suddenly, to my absolute terror and unending delight, a black fin cut the surface of the water just a couple of yards from my dangling legs. Up it came- two feet, four feet, six feet of shining black dorsal before the enormous black and white body curved up, and blasted a fountain of spray that misted my face. Then down it went again, while another rose up and another. I was absolutely speechless, rooted to the spot, unable to make a sound.
I don’t know how long I sat there enjoying the unbelievable sight before it struck me that I should share the experience with my friends. I clambered to my feet and ran to the hatch, where I started hollering about whales. Up they all came eager and excited, but when I pointed to the side of the boat, the orcas were gone.
Some of them asked me disappointedly if I had been joking, others just shrugged and went back to their cards. I found myself wishing I had had a camera so I could prove it to them. But then I laughed at myself and stopped wishing. I was suddenly glad I hadn’t thought to go looking for one and so missed another opportunity.
Since then, I have felt that those few special moments were in some way, a gift just for me. Those images are as clear to me now as they were that long ago day. And I am thankful I was able to store them away in my own mind to be replayed again and again when I am far from home.

A plethora of pancakes

One of the things I love about cooking is the enormous amount of variation that can be found in even the simplest of recipes.
For example, take the humble pancake. Flour, leavening, eggs and milk combined into a thin batter and poured on a hot griddle. What could be simpler? And yet I doubt I have ever gone to a restaurant or breakfasted at someone else’s home without encountering a new variation on the theme.
I grew up on Bisquick pancakes. Everything was ready to go in a box except the milk, so pancakes were one of the earliest things I learned to make. Bisquick pancakes tended to be very fluffy, big, and slightly dry, which wasn’t a problem since we always drowned our cakes in Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup. Come to think of it, I don’t know if they sell Mrs. Butterworth’s down south. The syrup bottle was shaped like a woman in an apron. Do they still sell it like that?

But I digress.

Sometimes, if dad were in the right mood, we would break tradition with Bisquick, and he would make ‘silver dollar’ pancakes. I don’t think the batter was anything special, but it was very thin, and he would make piles and piles of little tiny pancakes, and we girls would see who could eat the most.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, my best friend used to invite me to stay with her at her grandparents house for a few days every summer, and they would take us to the Weyerhauser mansion for breakfast. There, my scrawny, nine-year-old self would order the “Lumberjack Breakfast”. In addition to bacon, sausage, eggs and hash browns, it came with a stack of pancakes big enough to cover an entire plate, and an ice cream scoop of butter on top. Not surprisingly, I never finished it.
I also remember a few times when one of my uncles would come over on Saturday mornings and make us buckwheat pancakes, just like his mom used to make them. Oh, those heavy, wheaty flapjacks were a trial for our picky, white flour palates, but we tried our best to muscle them down, so as not to offend him.
And speaking of uncles and pancakes, every year at our family reunion, another of my uncles would make fabulous blueberry pancakes, using a closely guarded secret recipe. There were rumors that there was vodka in the batter, but I never found out for sure.
There are the round Aebleskivers my Danish cousin taught me to make, and “skinny pancakes” that a junior high friend introduced me to. I later found out they were really called crepes.
Then there is the dutch baby, the german pancake, or as we call it, the puff pancake, because it rises to such heights in the oven before it collapses.

I think I’ve made my point.

The pancake recipe I am going to share today is different than all of the above, since it’s main ingredient is sour cream. I got this recipe from The Pioneer Woman’s blog, but I have altered it some to suit our needs. I was reticent to try this recipe for a long time because I couldn’t imagine a pancake with so much sour cream could look or taste like a pancake. But once I finally did, it became our family favorite. Oh, and it’s super simple. So here we go.

Here’s what you need-

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Crack four eggs into a bowl.

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Then just dump in the whole 1 lb container of sour cream, along with a good splash of vanilla extract.

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Mix it up.

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Then just stir in
2 cups of flour
and
2 tsp baking soda.

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It’s going to be lumpy, and that is good. “Leave it lumpy” was the first law of pancake making, according to my mother.

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Now because I altered the original recipe, I sometimes find that the batter is too thick, so I thin it down with a little milk or buttermilk until it is the desired consistency.

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Then just find your favorite griddle or skillet. I use my Cuisinart Griddler. Even thought it is non stick, I always use plenty of butter.

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Cook them like any other pancake, letting them get bubbly on the edges before you flip them.

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And there you are! We’ve graduated from Mrs. Butterworth’s to real maple syrup around here, so that’s how we serve them, but jam is very nice too.

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What’s your favorite pancake?